Is Committee looking at key issues?

December 19, 2017 3:00 AM

There was something missing in the recent meeting of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s gaming advisory committee meeting to consider the possibilities for marijuana in the state’s casinos.

What is the likelihood Attorney General Jeff Sessions would use the presence of legal recreational marijuana in Nevada as sufficient reason to go after a company or individual pocketing revenue generated by the presence of this drug that is right up there with heroin as a schedule one drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970?

Committee members – some of the finest minds in the casino business – kicked the question around for several hours before deciding they will probably meet again in February to take another look at this issue as they consider suggestions that may be put before the next session of the Nevada Legislature.

By then perhaps someone may have found Sessions’ phone number and said, “Hey Jeff, we’ve got a little issue out here in Nevada we’d like to talk to you about.”

It could be this has already happened. It could also be the absence of any contact with Washington is because of Nevada’s longstanding reluctance to see Washington-based regulators pay any more attention to the state’s number one industry than it is already doing. But hey, state officials long ago established their ability to make a point in Washington.

That’s exactly why the American Gaming Association came into being. Gaming leaders recognized the need to tell the industry’s story.

Well, now is not the time to turn down the volume on this issue, particularly since legal weed was not an issue pushed by gaming companies. It’s the voters of Nevada who put the issue where it is – on the front burner of issues generating excited conversation.

But Washington’s current attitude toward the use of marijuana is not the only issue the committee showed a reluctance to explore.

How did legal weed end up as a schedule one drug? The politics of regulation were changing. But not fast enough to keep up with the attitudes shaped by regulators who were not always responding to the facts passed around by people who had their own story to tell.

The casino business was led by people who had experienced similar pressures, people who lived in areas where there was no legal gaming, which was just about everywhere except New Jersey and Nevada. Sports betting has felt the same pressures. The 1992 passage of legislation to prevent its spread is now under appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court and a decision is not likely before spring. About 20 states have filed with the court supporting New Jersey.

MGM’s CEO James Murren said he opposed legalizing recreational marijuana on last November’s state ballot. But it passed “overwhelmingly” because voters wanted it. Other committee members said much the same thing in so many words. The problem, of course, is people with one of the state’s “privileged” casino licenses know breaking a federal law – rubbing shoulders with the marijuana business, is a sure way to draw attention from the Gaming Control Board.

But the men and women mapping strategy for gaming companies have little appetite for talking about it and their lawyers – as bright as many of them may be – have little interest in taking risks they can avoid.

Statewide revenue figures from marijuana sales will top $100 million by the end of the year driven by the surprising interest in edibles. Official sales tax figures were more than $12 million through the first three months of the current fiscal year.

But that does not change the fact that state and federal law are in conflict. The most realistic solution voiced by anyone at the meeting was marijuana might be reclassified as a schedule two or three drug, an action that would remove the penalties that have resort bosses tip-toeing around the subject.

By the time of the committee’s next meeting in February, California will be selling recreational weed. That in itself might prompt federal action that could prove useful to Nevada.

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